Philippines accuses China of seizing rocket part in disputed waters

Agence France-Presse
Philippines accuses China of seizing rocket part in disputed waters
This handout photo taken on April 27, 2021 and received from the Philippine Coastguard on May 5, 2021 shows Philippine coastguard personnel aboard their ship BRP Cabra monitoring Chinese vessels (R) at Sabina Shoal, a South China Sea outcrop claimed by Manila located about 135 kilometres (73 nautical miles) west of the Philippine island of Palawan.
Handout / Philippine Coastguard / AFP

MANILA, Philippines —  The Philippines on Monday accused the Chinese coastguard of "forcefully" seizing parts of a rocket fairing that landed in its waters, but Beijing insisted the handover took place after "friendly consultation".

A senior Filipino navy official made the allegation as US Vice-President Kamala Harris began a three-day visit to the Philippines aimed at boosting ties and countering China's growing clout in the region.

A Chinese coastguard vessel on Sunday "blocked" a Filipino rubber boat towing an "unidentified floating object" in the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea, Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos said. 

The Chinese coast guard vessel then deployed an inflatable boat team which "forcefully retrieved said floating object by cutting the towing line attached to the (Filipino) rubber boat", he said.

The object was then taken to the Chinese coastguard vessel as the Filipino troops returned to their station, Carlos said.

The object resembled debris from Chinese rocket fairings recovered this month from the island of Busuanga, north of Palawan, military spokeswoman Major Cherryl Tindog also told reporters.

No Filipino soldiers were injured in the incident, he added.

China's foreign ministry on Monday confirmed the object was the remnant of a rocket fairing recently launched by Beijing, but denied "interception and seizing" had taken place.

"After friendly consultation on the spot, the Philippine side returned the floating object to the Chinese side," foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said at a regular press conference.

China has faced criticism for allowing parts of rockets to fall to Earth uncontrolled in the past.

In July, remnants from a Chinese rocket fell into the Sulu Sea in the Philippines, prompting leading US officials to chide Beijing for not sharing information about the potentially hazardous object's descent.

The reported incident came a day before the US vice president's visit. 

Harris met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday and will head to the western Philippine island of Palawan, the closest major landmass to the disputed Spratlys, on Tuesday.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, a resource-rich waterway through which trillions of dollars worth of ship-borne trade passes every year.

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